Bryden Boutilier is the Coordinator of Grey Cup & Events for the Canadian Football League (CFL). I had the pleasure of chatting with Bryden recently for this feature on his role with the CFL. I enjoyed learning about how he handles the intricacies of staging a sports event. My two favourite parts of the conversation was hearing about Bryden’s game-day rituals and how he prepares for the Grey Cup event Having worked for a team (Hamilton Tiger Cats) that made it to the Grey Cup in 2019, I saw the result of Bryden’s hard work. It was marvelous! So conversing with Bryden Boutilier for this feature shed a lot of light for me on working in sport event management.
Please note: The interview with Bryden Boutilier was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
My role as Coordinator of Operations, Grey Cup & Events is one that widely varies throughout the year, especially since the projects that I work on are often quite different. Although we are working on the Grey Cup year-round and even years in advance, I play a role in various league events that take place all year long. Throughout the year, I work on projects such as our commissioner’s cross country road trip, our regional and national combines, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame Announcement & Induction Ceremony, the Thursday Night Football Concert Series, our Partner Summit, Touchdown Atlantic, as well as any additional events that may come up throughout the season. My role in these events often vary, but it usually involves budget management & invoicing, building out work back schedules, working with vendors, event design and pageantry, building out production schedules & scripts, and then event execution.
When it comes to working on Grey Cup, I receive all appearance requests for the RCMP, the Grey Cup Trophy, and our Commissioner, building out their schedules for Grey Cup week. I work closely with our partnerships team to build out our LED script for the CFL Playoffs & Grey Cup, assist with the organization of the CFL vehicles onsite, shipping all of our items (there are a lot) from Toronto to the Grey Cup city, as well as working on the uploading and approval of all Grey Cup Gameday Accreditation. I also have a number of events throughout Grey Cup week than I am lead on and will support my team on their events when I’m available. This past year I led the Head Coaches Conference and our Commissioner’s Media & Fan State of the League address. Once all of our events finished, I’ll flip over to a gameday role to assist in the preparation for the big game. On game day I’ll work with the promo team and the team’s field manager to make sure our partner’s assets are activated in-game, assist with on-field experiences, help put out any fires that may arise on the sideline throughout the game and help wrangle players for the trophy presentation during post-game celebrations. I love my role at the CFL as I’m always working on something different. There is always a new project or challenge that arises and I’m constantly learning about something new in my role. One of my old bosses used to call me a swiss army knife due to the nature of my role.
There is usually no typical day for me as my day to day varies depending on the projects that I’m working on and the time of the year. When I’m in our office, I get in around 9:00 am and answer any emails that may have come in overnight. I’ll then look at my calendar for the day to see what meetings I have scheduled and start tackling my to-do-list. I usually have a good idea of what I’ll be working on that day before I get into the office. Due to the variety of projects & tasks that I’m working on, I find writing everything down has always helped me keep track of everything.
My path to my current role is one that I did not expect. After graduating from University, I took off to Australia for a year of backpacking and planned to find some temporary work. After travelling for a few months up Australia’s east coast, I got a job working at a high-end nightclub in Sydney. There I fell in love with the work that went into the behind the scenes operations. Every night there would be hours of prepping and when the doors opened at 11:00 pm, it would all come together to give the customers an incredible experience. When I returned home from Australia, I didn’t really have an idea of what to do next. I knew how much I enjoyed the behind the scenes work at the nightclub and with my passion for sports, I thought that I would look to pursue a career in the sports and entertainment industry.
I started by applying to sports organizations across North America, not really having any idea of the various departments that existed within an organization or any idea of what I wanted to do. This really wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I looked into going back to school and found the Sport & Event Marketing program at George Brown College. Knowing that they had strong relations with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, I applied and a few months later I found myself moving to Toronto to pursue my career in sports. When I was applying for my internship, I had it in my mind from the beginning that I was going to get an internship at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. This kept me focused and when I obtained my internship with the Global Partnerships team on the Toronto Maple Leafs side, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. It didn’t take long into my internship before I knew that this was the career path for me, and when I had the opportunity to join the CFL after finishing my program, I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve now been in Toronto for almost three years, and I feel like this is just the beginning.
Growing up in Nova Scotia, there are very few professional sports organizations other than a few QMJHL teams. There wasn’t really anyone that I knew in the Sports and Entertainment industry who I had a close personal relationship with, and truthfully, I didn’t know much about the industry before moving to Toronto. The town where I grew up did have a number of people who were successful in the NHL (Paul MacLean – Currently Assistant Coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Al MacIssac – Currently Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations with the Chicago Blackhawks, and Dennis Bonvie – Currently Pro Scout with the Boston Bruins). They have all won the Stanley Cup and brought it back to my town, which I always thought would be such a cool experience. It’s my hope that maybe one day I can be apart of an organization that wins a major sports trophy and bring it home to share with my community, friends, and family just as they did.
I have two favourite things that I love about working in sports.
The first is how a lot of the time it really doesn’t feel like work. I personally got into sports because it is something that I am passionate about and have enjoyed doing my entire life. Working in sports, there are a lot of hours outside of the typical 9 to 5. You work a lot of weekends, there are some late nights and some early mornings, but when your passionate about what your doing, those long days can be extremely rewarding. I also love and am grateful for all of the experiences that I get to partake in. Sometimes you get so caught up in the work that you need to take a step back and realize that you are getting the opportunity to be in a position that fans would pay a lot of money to experience. One of my favourite experiences so far was the 2017 MLS Cup when I was an intern at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. Although I was a part of the leaf’s team, we often would be tasked with support Toronto FC game days. We started working the morning of the final at about 7:00 am, knowing that it was going to be a long and cold day with the game taking place in early December. Being that the game is an MLS league asset, there was only so much that we could do after kickoff, so we got the opportunity to watch most of the game. It was one of the craziest atmosphere’s that I ever experienced, and when Toronto FC won, I’ll never forget celebrating with my friends and colleagues.
My second favourite thing about working in sports is seeing how much sports means to so many people. It can mean something different to everyone, whether you played growing up, are on a recreation sports team with some friends, do it for exercise, or you are a passionate fan of a team or player. When you see someone meet their favourite athlete or experience something that they have only dreamed of, that means so much to me and drives me to work that much harder. Sports bring people together, and if I can make someone’s experience that much better, then I know I have done my job.
One of the biggest challenges that I face in my role is having control over things that are out of my control. As much as you can prepare and have everything in place, there is usually something that goes wrong with live events as there are multiple moving parts and parties involved. As an events person, you want everything to go perfectly, but that is rarely the case. You just have to remain calm, think quickly on your feet to find a solution, and take the experience as a learning opportunity for future events. The things that go wrong are usually so small that no one attending the event even notices except for you, but because you had a part in planning the event, it becomes much more significant to you. Events are all about preparation, and if you’ve done your due diligence, then you can minimize the risk of something going wrong.
On a game day or on the day of an event, the first thing I’ll do is pack my bag for the day. I always tend to go a little over the top when packing because you never know what you need until you need it. Extra battery packs, snacks that I can grab on the go, and a Rockstar energy drink in case of emergencies are usually always in my backpack. I always start my day with a large Tim Hortons Coffee and some breakfast. I’ve learned very quickly in my career that you must eat when you can because the days can get busy very quickly and you can easily lose track of time. In the weeks leading up to the Grey Cup, the last thing I want is to be under the weather during our busiest week of the year, so about two weeks out I always start taking Emergen-C and it hasn’t failed me yet.
There are a number of goals that I’m looking to achieve in my career, but here are my top three at this point in my life:
I want to work for an expansion franchise from the point the team is awarded through until the team wins a championship. Having the opportunity to build a team from the ground up, and see that team have success would be extremely rewarding. My goal would be to help create a unique and unforgettable experience for our fans, giving myself the opportunity to really get creative and show people something that they may not have seen before.
I want to work on an international project. I think it would be an incredible learning opportunity to work on either a sporting event or for a sports organization outside of Canada and see how they operate.
I want to work in a sports market where the current game is not as viewed as popular and work on growing that game in the market. Sports are an incredible thing that has brought me so much joy in my life. If I’m able to share that joy and passion with others, I believe that would be a very rewarding experience.
This is by far my favourite book that I’ve ever read. An amazing story of how a minor hockey team took a different approach to coach kids. I wish more coaches out there followed this philosophy when kids are young.
Always read these books as a kid and could never wait for the next one to come out. A great mix of both hockey and mystery.
Quidditch is a sport, right?
This is my Dad’s favorite movie and it’s defiantly up there in my favorites of all time as well.
This movie has so many great quotes and a movie that I will never get sick of watching.
I get memorized by this movie every time I watch it.
My interview with Bryden Boutilier was very inspirational and painted the perfect picture of what the responsibilities of a sport event management professional entail. All in all, Bryden gave the SPort MAnagement (SPMA) Hub an inside look into preparing the CFL’s annual championship game. There’s a lot more than you think when it comes to planning and organizing the big event, and the smaller events that surround it. Without much debate, the Grey Cup is the biggest event within the CFL and preparation and execution from its events team is crucial. Bryden is one of the key individuals who play a role in the event’s success and I am grateful to have conversed with him about his career in sport.